Twitter is changing the face of diplomacy; in fact, it’s creating an entirely new concept in foreign relations that is changing the way publics are informed by governments. “Twi-plomacy” is a term that many in the social media world may not yet be familiar with, but it is becoming prevalent among government offices.
It describes an increasingly relevant phenomenon of global communication: Twitter’s growing influence over the way world leaders communicate with other governments, their own citizens and the general public. The use of social media in general in diplomacy is simply referred to as eDiplomacy.
I recently attended a lecture on behalf of the Center titled “Is Twi-plomacy changing the face of modern diplomacy?” at the Italian embassy with experts in foreign policy and communication including: Claudio Bisogniero, Italian Ambassador to the US, Alec Ross, Secretary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, David Ignatius, Associate Editor and Columnist at the Washington Post, Ahmed Shihab- Eldin, Host and Producer at HuffPostLive and Deborah Seward, Director of Strategic Communications at the UN.
The most significant effect of eDiplomacy is that the world is witnessing a geopolitical shift in power, said Bisogniero.
Foreign policy is moving closer to the people, and the people are getting closer to foreign policy.
Diplomats are struggling to adapt to the rise of social media, and their greatest responsibility is the need to listen more. Twi-plomacy allows diplomats to engage with the public more directly and efficiently. Bisogniero stressed that while eDiplomacy operates within the social media sphere, its true promise does not lie in these new technologies themselves, but rather in the innovation and new ideas for how to improve foreign policy within them. Ross echoed the ambassador’s statement that, thanks to eDiplomacy, power is shifting from hierarchies to networks of citizens.
Ross, whose position at the State Department was created specifically to blend technology with diplomacy, said, "If Paul Revere had been a modern day citizen, he wouldn't have ridden down Main Street. He would have tweeted."
The State Department is known for its heavy tweeting, but Ross stated that it’s not to be trendy, but to engage the public on foreign policy discussion. Ross did concede, however, that Twi-plomacy can have negative consequences, echoing Secretary Clinton’s statement that, “Information networks are like nuclear power. They can fuel a city or destroy it.”
Ignatius and Seward cautioned against the dependence on social media over traditional media sources. Ignatius said that journalists are often too busy tweeting to provide in-depth reporting on issues that actually matter.
With a background in journalism, Seward warned that social media can lack credibility. Even though Twitter and Facebook are growing as news sources, the need for accurate, fact-checked information is even more relevant now, and all media must work together.
Traditional diplomacy is not being replaced by eDiplomacy. The two are simply merging to make foreign policy less foreign to the public. These technologies have a great influence on decision-making today. Ross stressed the benefits of social media at the conference’s end, stating, “Anything that connects the governed to the governing is inherently good.”